Longing for the advent of festive TV? We went back through the years to choose the best and most merry British sitcom specials for you to revisit.
Knowing Me, Knowing Yule with Alan Partridge (1995)
Alan Partridge opens the doors to his mock-up Norwich home for Knowing Me, Knowing Yule, a Christmas special that has to be extra-special to save the show from cancellation.
He’s bolstered by a big budget equivalent to “14 dialysis machines,” but in peak Partridge fashion his efforts are continually sabotaged by himself and guests “peripheral” or otherwise. His new boss and enemy number one, a fictional Chief Commissioner of BBC, Tony Hayers, even makes an appearance, despite the show’s life being in Hayers’ hands.
It all amounts to a hilarious ticking time bomb of a special, not to mention the classic ‘Christmas in Norwich’ VT, giving a first glimpse of Alan’s private life as he jogs around the city’s Cathedrals and enjoys quality alone time in Tandy’s, the local electronics store.
Vicar of Dibley: The Christmas Lunch Incident (1996)
“How many chocolate advent calendars is the maximum a greedy person should have?” Asks the Vicar of Dibley in The Christmas Lunch Incident. 30, according to Alice. “Good, I’ve got it about right then,” says the Vicar, opening her Oasis one and eating Liam Gallagher.
The Vicar might be a “greedy person”, but there are only so many Christmas lunches she can handle, so when Frank and Jim, David and his son Hugo, Alice and her family, and Owen invite her to four multi-course meals, by the last she’s literally crawling. All have their reasons for wanting her over (missing spouses, loneliness), and when duty calls, the Vicar answers.
It’s funny business as usual in Dibley, with the villagers being a nuisance and the Vicar exasperated by them but happy to serve all the same.
The Office (2003)
Three years after “the documentary” (The Office) made David Brent look like the “biggest plonker of the year” (his words), the camera crew caught up with the paper merchants as they geared up for the Christmas party in a special two-parter.
It was a new dawn in the office, with Officer Gareth now at the helm and Mel literally the new Dawn, replacing her as receptionist but not as Tim’s anti-Gareth ally. David’s a lowly door-to-door shammy salesman, unable to keep from visiting his old stomping ground and still embarrassing himself at every turn. He’s also on the lookout for love, desperately searching for a date to bring to the party else he be humiliated.
It was a welcome return to the cringe factory, and gave the Tim and Dawn will-they-won’t-they romance the conclusion everyone wanted.
The Inbetweeners: Xmas Party (2008)
In Xmas Party, Will’s elected Chairman of the Christmas Prom Committee (being the only candidate) and enlists the gang to help plan. He’s lucky to have Jay, who claims to have organised hundreds of parties including his birthday last year. Well, he supervised his mum.
Amidst serious debate over the legitimacy of Wharlotte (was it just a bet?), Donovan’s possessive threat only compounds Will’s panic at the disco, while Simon’s scheming to woo Carli, and Neil somehow fancies his chances with Miss Timms.
For most of the boys the night is a rare success, though no matter how heartfelt the ending, you can always rely on The Inbetweeners to give it a gross twist.
Gavin & Stacey (2008)
Set between series two and three, the 2008 Gavin & Stacey special opens with Gavin having just been promoted. It’s great news for him, Stacey and South Wales, but terrible news for Essex.
Gavin’s planned a big announcement when Stacey’s family and friends arrive in Billericay via Dave’s coach to spend Christmas with Gavin’s parents, but with some in the know and the wine flowing, the fallout - especially from Pam and Smithy - could be fatal to the festivities. Smithy’s spirits are dealt a further blow from seeing Dave so close to Nessa and baby Neil.
There’s plenty of heartache, but the special has all the wholesome staples of the series: Pam’s twisted flexitarian logic, a Gavin and Smithy sing along and Nessa being Nessa, even when playing Santa: “Oh, oh, oh, merry Christmas.”
Invaded by a desperate divorcee, an uncontrollable grandfather and an ex-burglar, Pete and Sue are heavily outnumbered on Boxing Day. It only adds to the familiar mess of the family home, with blanket forts pitched and toys stuck behind radiators with the small arms of those reaching to retrieve them.
The kids are their usual cute and unruly selves waging many a verbal war; innocent faces leaving guilty adults logically and morally dumbfounded, especially Karen with her devastating dismantling of A Christmas Carol. Why was Bob Scratchit so quick to forgive Scrooge?
Pete and Sue’s charity is eventually rewarded, but only after a long day of hardship. One of the more relatable Christmas comfort watches for any parents dreaming of festive respite.
Peep Show: Seasonal Beatings (2010)
Merry Christmark everyone! Peep Show's Mark is in charge of Christmas Day in Seasonal Beatings and his family are coming over, so “lunch is at 1pm, presents after, then charades, then the lull, the Low Countries, then the row, the cold cuts, then bang! Into a blockbuster to see us home.”
It’s a pretty accurate prediction for the proceedings, but the row comes early when Dobby dares to confront Mark’s Dad over lunch, and Mark, with his severe lack of a backbone, fails to defend her.
It’s one to watch for a big laugh, especially at Mark's explosive turkey rant, but maybe not for what Jez calls that “Christmassy feeling.”